“We want to be the best hotel restaurant in the world. That’s what we’re pushing for.”
Uttering that statement as he welcomes us into HA Restaurant, Chef Carlos Gaytan sets a very high bar. He then spends the next 3 hours exceeding all expectations.
After all, this isn’t your typical hotel restaurant. Carlos Gaytan is the first Mexican chef ever to receive a Michelin Star (for Mexique in Chicago). And although HA Restaurant is located within Hotel Xcaret in Riviera Maya, Mexico, it is open to all diners with a reservation and is the one restaurant not included in the hotel’s all-inclusive package. It’s a stand-alone culinary masterpiece in a resort area more commonly associated with dinner buffets.
This past January, my boyfriend and I visited San Juan for the first time and fell in love with the capital of Puerto Rico. I feel honored to have contributed to the new LGBTQ travel portal of DiscoverPuertoRico.com and, in some small way, help guide new travelers to the Caribbean’s most gay friendly destination.
As a first-time visitor, you’ll quickly realize Puerto Rico’s capital city is the LGBTQ Caribbean destination you’ve been searching for. Rich in history, breathtakingly beautiful and offering non-stop flights from 49 destinations, it is an ideal quick winter getaway.
San Juan satisfies the desire for a culturally-unique, tropical escape, combined with the ease of never leaving the United States. You don’t need a passport, will use U.S. currency, and can easily communicate in English and Spanish. It is also exceptionally gay-friendly.
Gay travelers to Mexico are increasingly becoming bi… coastal, that is.
According to the 2018 report by Community Marketing & Insights, Mexico is the second most visited international destination for LGBTQ travelers from the United States (Canada is the first). Within the country, the areas around Puerto Vallarta and Cancun/Riviera Maya are the two most popular.
Wooing our community to Mexico’s eastern coast, the UNICO 20°87° Hotel Riviera Maya is prioritizing becoming the region’s most LGBTQ-friendly all-inclusive….
New York is a city of immigrants, a place where diverse cultures co-exist, thrive, expand and blend. We are a mish-mash of transplants. And that mish-mash tastes real good.
Last month, I had the delicious joy of joining Cristina Lombardi, the insanely knowledgeable owner of Follow Me New York City Adventures on their “Taste of Queens Adventure.” This private, customizable walking tour focuses on the neighborhoods of Astoria or Flushing, depending on the interests of the guests. In fact, Follow Me NYC can customize pretty much any type of tour you’d like: from a tipsy tour through the city’s speakeasies to a sweet-tooth tasting of the city’s best candy and dessert spots. They also offer a la carte adventures exploring Times Square & Theater District, Wall Street & Financial District, Central Park and Greenwich Village.
On a sunny and blustery fall day, our small group set out to taste our way through Astoria, Queens. Queens is the most diverse borough of New York City and, depending on what survey you read, it is either in the top three or the most diverse county in the entire United States. According to the last U.S. census in 2010, 48.5% of the population of Queens is foreign-born.
We began our tour with a brief history lesson. We learned Astoria was named after the wealthiest man in America (at the time), John Jacob Astor, in the hopes he would invest in his namesake neighborhood. And though he could literally see it from his palatial home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, it is rumored Mr. Astor never actually set foot in Astoria, nor invested any substantial money. Regardless, the name stuck and, through the years, Astoria became home for every wave of immigrants that landed on our shores.
Throughout the early to mid 1900’s it was primarily Irish, Italian and Jewish. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that Greek immigrants began flocking to Astoria and creating one of the largest centers of Greek culture in the United States. So, it was fitting that our first stop was the family-owned Yaya’s Bakery for a taste of Galaktoboureko, a traditional Greek phyllo dough pastry filled with warm custard and drizzled with a light syrup made from honey and lemon juice. Not only was it delicious, but it was a dessert I would have never thought of ordering had it not been for our guide, Cristina, who chose this pastry specifically for that reason.
With warmer bellies, we headed to La Cabaña Grocery for Tacos al Pastor (a pork taco with fresh cilantro, pineapple, chopped onion and a squeeze of lime). The bodega sells traditional spices, authentic ingredients and beloved Mexican treats in a no-frills but all-taste setting.
Samosa at Seva Indian Restaurant
From one characteristically spicy cuisine to another, we next savored a vegetable Samosa at Seva Indian Restaurant, which specializes in Northern Indian dishes. Don’t forget to dunk the potato, onion, pea and lentil-filled pastry in the mint chutney for the full flavor explosion.
Our walk continued to Djerdan for a Spinach Burek, a Balkan staple and probably my favorite of the day. The crispy phyllo-dough pastry is filled with cheese and freshly sautéed spinach and shaped like a (very tasty!) cigar. Insider tip: In between trips to Astoria, you can order from their online store.
At our next stop, Zenon Taverna, a member of the family that owns the restaurant greeted us with a crash course in Cypriot cuisine, explaining “we use a lot of mint and cumin… we use all the spices that Greeks won’t.” He continued describing the flavors as a blending of traditional Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern influences, before serving us Trahana Soup. The traditional Cypriot soup is made with bulgur wheat, thickened in chicken stock, Greek yogurt, halloumi (a type of goat cheese) and finished off with a squeeze of fresh lemon.
From the traditional to the trendy, our group headed to the very popular Queens Comfort, which had a line of folks waiting to enter. Inside, there was a DJ spinning for a brunch clientele that was equal parts multi-generational families and Millennial hipsters. Our takeaway was a taste of the Atomic Fire Balls–deep-fried, Siracha-infused mac ‘n cheese balls. If these spicy nuggets were indicative of the other menu options, I can easily understand the long line of eager diners.
Atomic Fire Balls
Our final stop took us to Little Morocco for a taste of the Merguez sausage, a minced lamb sausage spiced with cumin, chili peppers, sumac and harissa. The area of Steinway Street, where the restaurant is located, is often called Little Egypt or Little Morocco, as Lebanese, Northern African and Middle Eastern immigrants have been steadily settling in the area since the 1980’s.
This tour through Astoria was a much-needed reminder that diversity makes New York City great—always! As a now seasoned New Yorker I too often stay within my own neighborhood out of habit and, well, laziness. But no one moves to New York to stay within his comfort level. Especially as politicians are using the topic of immigration to stoke unfounded fears, it’s important to remember that our diversity makes us stronger, makes us better, and makes our walks through Astoria all the more tasty.
(The restaurants we visited on our tasting adventure; our fabulous guide, Cristina Lombardi, in center; Trahana Soup lower left.)
What is better than a donut shop? …A donut shop with beer!
Located in the Gordon Square neighborhood of Cleveland, Brewnuts combines two delicious tastes, not typically enjoyed together. Clevelanders Shelley and John Pippin, not only incorporate craft-beer as an ingredient in their doughy deliciousness, but also serve sixteen local brews on tap (and even more bottled). The donuts are all hand-made in their shop, with a regularly changing menu that includes traditional favorites and seasonal features. During my recent visit, the daily offerings included Maple Bacon, Strawberry Sprinkle and Peanut Butter Cocoa Pebbles, among others.
The shop features artwork by local artist Glen Infante and bright-pink donut floaties adorning the tropical-leaf printed wallpaper. Enjoy a donut or brew at the counter or relax in the lanai-inspired sitting area. The Brewnuts shop is trendy and tropical, with decor fitting for both the ladies of Mean Girls and Golden Girls.
The Luxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado sits on its own island, accessible only by ferry, off the secluded Samana Peninsula in the Dominican Republic. This luxury all-inclusive resort is perfect for couples seeking a romantic escape, away from a party scene.
Though there’s much to explore in Samana, the Luxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado has you covered should you want to stay put on your own little Caribbean island. The all-inclusive resort offers 6 restaurants, with buffet and international a la carte options; and 4 bars, including a beach bar and a pool bar. Guests have full access to the resort’s relaxing private beach with kayaks and paddle boards available for use. There is also a public beach for day-trippers with lively beachside restaurants and bars. The resort even includes a scuba diving lesson in one of its 2 pools, should you want to prepare for deeper sea exploration. At night, you can hit the disco or enjoy nightly entertainment, ranging from acrobats to dance troupes. During our stay they even featured a synchronized swimming performance. Or you can wind down a romantic evening in your room with a specially prepared bath, from their butler services menu…
Read the full article, published inManAboutWorldby clicking here.
The newest and only luxury beachfront LGBTQ hotel in Puerto Vallarta will make your tub bubbleth over. With hot tubs in 29 of its 78 suites; an infinity pool (featuring swim-up bar and more hot tubs) off the sands of Los Muertos Beach; member access to Mantamar Beach Club, the premier beach club in Zona Romantica; and a rooftop bar with heart-warming sunset views, drag shows and — yes, even more hot tubs — the Almar Resort is making sassy classy in Mexico’s favorite gay beach retreat…
The Dutch island of Curaçao invites you to experience European sophistication with Caribbean warmth.
Offering an enticing combination of Dutch Attitude at a Caribbean Latitude, Curaçao is emerging as one of the Caribbean’s most popular gay destinations. A rare island where tourists and locals effortlessly coexist, Curaçao imbues your tropical vacation with cultural authenticity.
Conveniently located outside the Hurricane Belt, Curaçao enjoys year-round 80-degree days with minimal rain, perfect for both beach and city escapes. To best experience the island’s diversity, the sister properties of Kura Hulanda (kurahulanda.com) offer the “Best of Both Worlds” Package. Spend two nights admiring the Dutch Colonial architecture of the island’s capital, while staying at the UNESCO World Heritage designated Hotel Kura Hulanda (Langestraat 8-Willemstad). This luxury boutique resort boasts glorious courtyards, multiple pools, restaurants, a spa and casino. Then, spend three nights perched on rugged cliffs overlooking the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean, at the secluded Lodge Kura Hulanda& Beach Club (Playa Kalki-Westpunt) on the island’s western tip. The Lodge’s onsite dive shop, Ocean Encounters West (oceanencounterswest.com), will complete your beach vacation by arranging snorkeling, diving, and boating excursions.
Planning your honeymoon? Both resorts are members of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association and are eager to celebrate New York’s recent Marriage Equality victory. Until December 22, they are offering newlyweds who present a valid New York marriage license a free upgrade and dinner for two.
All right, time to get a little sweaty and explore the island’s natural beauty. Hardcore hikers should head to Christoffel National Park (christoffelpark.org) where you can climb 1,240 feet to the top of Mt. Christoffel, the island’s highest point. On a clear day you can see the coasts of Venezuela and Bonaire. If you prefer a rough ride, then fasten your seatbelt because it’s going to be a bumpy one. Eric’s ATV Adventures (curacao-atv.com) will take you through the wildest and most beautiful parts of Curaçao, including cliffs, dunes, caves and beyond.
Next, explore the tasty variety of Curaçao’s cuisine. Located about a mile from the Lodge Kura Hulanda, Landhuis Misjé (landhuismisje.com) serves up Caribbean comfort food with a sophisticated flair. Clearly stating her “100% gay friendly” policy on the restaurant website, Chef Graciela Real will make you feel right at home serving a unique fusion of the island’s Latin, Dutch and Caribbean influences in the lantern-lit yard of this restored plantation home. Want to recreate the island’s flavor back home? Learn the necessary skills at Angelica’s Kitchen (Hoogstraat 49-Willemstad, angelicas-kitchen.com) Caribbean cooking class. The ladies of the Kitchen will teach you how to make delicious “no fuss food” in a relaxed, festive setting. Drink, cook, eat and bond with a group of old friends or favorite new acquaintances. For a tasty Mojito or Caipirinha, head to the Latin-inspired café and bar Mundo Bizarro (Nieuwestraat 12-Pietermaai, mundobizarrocuracao.com). Part restaurant, part live music venue, Mundo is a perfect spot to socialize with the locals.
Want to make a splash? Curaçao will be dripping with cocktail, beach, and boat parties from September 30-October 2, when it kicks off the 7th annual Get Wet gay party weekend. Year round, Madame Jeanette “aims to make being Lesbian, Gay, Transgendered, Bisexual or just confused a perfectly normal thing to be, one Party at a time!” The island’s hostess with the mostest throws her extravagant theme parties on the second Saturday of every month at TuTu Tango (Kaya Jombi Mensing 18-Willemstad, tutu-tango.com). For information on all upcoming events and parties, visit GayCuracao.com.
Less than a three-hour flight from the U.S., Curaçao provides a taste of Northern Europe in the Southern Caribbean. Trade your wooden shoes for a pair of sandals and enjoy the island’s “Live and Let Live” progressive attitude—with a tan!
(This article originally appeared in Next Magazine)
If variety is the spice of life, gay Vallarta just got tastier. Casa Cupula (http://www.casacupula.com), the decidedly upscale, boutique gay hotel in Puerto Vallarta, has opened its new restaurant Taste to the public. Perched on a secluded hillside, overlooking the Bay of Banderas, Taste is all about options. Choose to dine in the newly redesigned intimate dining room or under the sunshine/moonlight on the adjoining terrace.
What are you hungry for? Taste is prepared to satisfy all your culinary cravings— serving a sampling of Mexican, American, Asian and South American cuisine, available in both entrée and tapas (or “taste”) sized portions. With options including Shrimp Stuffed Ancho Peppers, Lamb Lollipops, Chicken Curry Samosas and Traditional Peruvian Ceviche, “you can Taste your way around the world in one meal, perfect for people on vacation who can’t return frequently,” says restaurant manager Erick Martinez.
Also, for the first time, the Sunday Mimosa Brunch previously enjoyed exclusively by hotel guests, is now open to everyone. The casa will keep the bubbles flowing, while you chat with old friends or make new ones at the community dining table. Afterwards, you are invited to work on your tan poolside while Casa Cupula hosts its weekly Sunday Pool Party for the boys (and girls) of Puerto Vallarta.